Reducing the risk of COVID-19 when working in adult social care

Published: Monday, 14 September 2020

Tim Dallinger looks at the Department of Health and Social Care’s new guidance on reducing the risk of infection.

Summary 

• New guidance on reducing the risk of coronavirus in the adult social care sector has been published by the Department of Health and Social Care.

• The guidance says that care providers should have processes in place to assess and reduce risk for everyone who works in the care sector and everyone who is in their care.

• It focuses specifically on how employers can support workers with factors that may make them more vulnerable to infection or adverse outcomes from COVID-19.

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020, the social care sector, along with most other sectors, was swept off its feet in a wave of information, confusion, policies, procedures and – dare we say it? – panic. Many people who worked in or were cared for by the social care sector succumbed to the virus.

Lessons needed to be learned and learned fast, hence the plethora of government advice and guidance about the safe use of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, reporting etc. One such piece of guidance was published by the Department of Health and Social Care in June 2020, and was entitled Coronavirus (COVID-19): reducing risk in adult social care. The guidance is a risk reduction framework. In this article, we will look at some of the key aspects of the guidance and how they apply to the adult social care sector in day-to-day operations. Adult social care providers must read and familiarise themselves with the full guidance.

Consider who is at risk

The guidance says that care providers should have processes in place to assess and reduce risk for everyone who works in the care sector and everyone who is in their care, regardless of characteristics or vulnerabilities.

This should include:

• The risk to the people who use the service: this must consider any individual characteristics that may put them at increased risk.

• The risk in the workplace, which should include travel to and from work, and travel between workplaces.

• The risk to workers, including volunteers: this must consider any individual characteristics that may put them at increased risk.

In accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the COSHH Regulations 2002, risks should be reduced for all workers. However, additional risk reduction measures should be considered for workers at higher risk if they have certain char-acteristics, health conditions or are pregnant. This includes direct and non-direct care and support roles, including permanent employees, agency, locum and bank staff and unpaid volunteers. Those at highest clinical risk should be helped to continue to follow the advice on shielding which is current at the time.

The factors which increase the risk to people are shown in Table 1.

Use the risk reduction framework

The risk reduction framework focuses specifically on how employers can support workers with factors that may make them more vulnerable to infection or adverse outcomes from COVID-19 to make decisions about their risks in the workplace. The guidance points out that it does not lead employers to an ‘absolute’ outcome, but is intended to provide support to:

Manage the process of undertaking risk assessments to identify those workers who may be more vulnerable to:

• infection or

• experiencing significant health challenges because of an infection.

Have sensitive, one-to-one conversations with workers to:

• acknowledge concerns

• discuss the options available

• agree any next steps.

Identify and implement ways of mitigating the risk to these workers within the context of their role and the setting.

Employers should carry out risk assessments for all workers that they have identified as being at greater risk. The framework focuses on reducing the risk for workers with potential risk factors, but employers should be mindful that those who are not at high risk may have other health concerns or anxieties that should be addressed. As with other workplace risk assessments, the extent of exposure to the hazard will have a significant effect on the risk. It would be wrong to assume that a worker with identified vul-nerabilities, working in areas with the highest concentration of COVID-19 patients, will be at the greatest risk as this depends on how effectively the risk of exposure is controlled.

Of course, many factors will affect the control of the risk of exposure. These include: hazard identification, risk assessment, risk mitigation, employee training, supervision, monitoring and reviews of processes. If the risk assessment identifies the worker as high risk, then a one-to-one conversation should be used to identify how risk could be reduced. Risk mitigation measures will be person- and workplace-specific and may include:

• Red/eploying the person to where the risks are lower. Examples could include providing support to those who are not thought to be infected by COVID-19, or remote working.

• Adjusting shift patterns to reduce the risk of the worker having to use public transport.

• Providing instruction and training to staff to ensure that they follow Public Health England and Department of Health and Social Care guidance on reducing workplace and workforce risk.

• Providing further advice and support through occupational health where available.

Take your responsibility seriously

All employers are responsible for ensuring a safe working environment. Safe ways of work must be established, implemented and communicated clearly to all staff. Undertaking a risk assessment is just one of the steps that employers must take to evidence that they have taken these responsibilities seriously.

Final thoughts

At the time of writing, although the care sector is starting to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, the government is warning of a possible second wave of COVID-19 later in the year. It’s important at this time to review your risk assessments and learn lessons from the pandemic, in preparation for any future crisis.

Further information

COVID-19: Adult social care risk reduction framework, Department of Health and Social Care, July 2020: https://tinyurl.com/COVIDRiskReduction.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

• Form - Risk assessment template (blank) (all providers)

About the author

Tim Dallinger provides training and consultancy services to care homes, care agencies and local authorities with an emphasis on practical techniques that work in the real world. You can contact Tim via email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

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